As ad platforms face off on political protocols, digital advertisers for tech brands are left caught in the balance.

Presidential candidates aren’t the only ones putting stakes in the ground on important societal issues this season. Social and digital media platforms are also raising debates in terms of how they handle political advertising. At issue is whether the platforms fact check ads, how they allow advertisers to target users or whether they accept political ads at all. As a tech PR and digital marketing agency, our clients and the corresponding ad campaigns that we run for them are largely unconnected to this political ad conversation, and yet, we’ve seen first-hand how this increased scrutiny is impacting our clients directly.

Who allows political digital ads?

First, let’s take a quick look at the political digital advertising landscape. In a highly publicized debate, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok are all on record as banning political ads, while Facebook and Google both allow them, with Mark Zuckerberg stating that “I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians and the news.”

But which platform is on the right side of history here is neither here nor there for the purposes of this article. The fact is, this battle is having a real impact on all advertisers – not only those with a direct political interest.

The battle between advertisers

Long before Facebook was even conceptualized, the battle between political and brand advertisers had begun. In 1984, John O’Toole told Ad Age that political ads were “giving advertising a bad name.” Less than a decade later, one of his predecessors, Alex Kroll, went on record in the same publication, declaring that “we must stop politicians from ruining our reputation.” This dichotomy is likely one of the many reasons that trust in advertising continues to decline.

But trust is only one of the challenges that tech marketers face. We have to get our ads seen in the first place, and that’s increasingly challenging. In today’s digital advertising environment, we’ve seen tech marketers impacted in two primary ways.

1)    Delayed approvals – Facebook and Google both report that most ads will be approved in 24 hours. Previously, we’ve tended to see this as a “worst case,” with most ad campaigns we manage getting approvals much faster. In the past few months, however, that has changed. The challenges and delays that advertisers noted around Black Friday and Cyber Monday didn’t disappear after the peak shopping season, with ads often taking the full 24-hour window or longer to be reviewed.

2)    Increased scrutiny – We’ve also seen an increase in the number of ads that are initially disapproved for no apparent violation of terms. This has most acutely affected our clients serving or operating in highly regulated industries, such as HealthIT and cybersecurity. Upon appeal (sometimes 2 or 3), these same ads have been approved, making this more of a nuisance than a long-term challenge, but the appeal process can cost time in terms of ad launch and testing.

As my colleague recently noted, Q1 is still a great time to run digital advertising campaigns, but tech marketing leaders need to make sure to add in buffer time to their campaign plans to account for these challenges. After all, Trump ran 14,000 ad variations in a 6-week period surrounding the impeachment trial and U.S. digital political ad spend is projected to top $1 billion for the first time – it’s a lot to keep up with!
If you need help cutting through noise? Contact us.

As SVP of digital marketing and analytics and ARPR’s resident data geek, Renee bridges the gap between traditional PR and lead generation.

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